Grant Gustin/The CW

It takes a deft touch to pull off an emotionally resonant episode that’s heavily reliant on complicated time-travel mechanics, but that’s exactly what the creative team behind The Flash manages to do in ”Fast Enough,” a powerhouse finale that caps off the first season in richly satisfying fashion even as it sets the bar higher for season two. By the episode’s end, the Flash’s universe may have expanded exponentially, but it’s the core players at the show’s heart that carry the day.

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Writers Greg Berlanti, Gabrielle Stanton and Andrew Kreisberg are smart enough to know they don’t have to gum up the works with any secondary villains or other distractions at this point. The episode is devoid of superheroics until its final few minutes, but hardly devoid of drama. Barry has a decision to make about going back in time to save his mother, and watching him work through his options with each of the characters reveals the actors at their best. Tom Cavanagh may have pulled off the kindly Harrison Wells mask, but he’s also able to pull off a complicated emotional relationship to Barry. He hates the older Flash, the one who doesn’t exist yet, but it’s that very hatred that put him in a position to have to help mold Barry into the Flash in the first place. In doing so, he’s come to have genuine fatherly affection and respect for the younger version of his nemesis; it’s a time-travel paradox he never could have predicted.

Joe is the show’s unguarded heart, so of course he’s going to urge Barry to save his mother regardless of the possible consequences—namely that he will never end up being a second father to Barry. (The time travel/wormhole/alternate universe stuff gets tricky here. If Barry succeeds, does this timeline continue on without him or is history rewritten for everyone? It’s not something Joe or anyone else really stops to consider, but it’s just as well because once you go down that road the explanations can get so esoteric they choke the life out of the drama.) Henry Allen, Barry’s actual father, urges the exact opposite course of action and his reasoning is just as emotional; he’s proud of the man Barry has become, and believes the natural course of events exists for a reason.

After Iris urges him to follow his heart and no one else’s, Barry goes on with his mission, which plays out as most of us probably anticipated but is no less wrenching for that thanks to Gustin’s affecting performance. Barry arrives on the scene of his mother’s murder in time to see his older self warn him not to stop it. He allows Thawne to kill his mother but is able to spend a final moment with her and assure her that everything will be all right with her son. It’s not the kind of closure he wanted, but it will have to do.

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Barry arrives back in the present day in time to prevent Thawne’s escape to the future, but it’s up to Eddie to stop Thawne from killing everybody in STAR Labs. It’s a drastic solution, to be sure; I’ve written before about expecting the characters to at least discuss the possibility of killing Eddie in order to prevent Thawne’s birth, but that never happened. Instead, Eddie took matters into his own hands. Assured by Dr. Stein that he’s a wild card on the board, Eddie becomes the hero Thawne assured him he never was by taking his own life. It’s a dark turn, and maybe there was a less drastic option available, but having to act in the moment to save Iris and everyone else, I’m not sure what it would have been. It’s not a fate he deserves, but it is a choice he deserved the chance to make.

There’s not much time for quiet reflection, however, as a singularity has opened over Central City and threatens to engulf the planet. That’s a cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until the fall, but there are other unanswered questions as well. If Thawne was never born, doesn’t that mean he never went back in time, never killed Wells, never killed Nora Allen, never created the particle accelerator that made the Flash and all of his villains? Have we entered the era of the multiverse, and if so, is that too much cosmic comic-book mythology for a weekly TV show to shoulder?

These are problems to be dealt with another day. For now, The Flash leaves us with a season of television that was much better than we had any reason to expect. While not without its flaws, it captured the spirit of its source material in a fun, light-on-its-feet way that few other comic book adaptations have managed. In “Fast Enough,” it pulled off a season ender that paid off our affection for the characters even as it satisfied the requirements of comic-book plotting. It already feels like it’s going to be a long wait until season two.

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Stray observations:

  • Thawne name-dropped Rip Hunter in relation to the time machine, providing further set-up for the upcoming Legends Of Tomorrow series.
  • It turns out that Cisco’s ability to remember the events of an alternate timeline was not as unmotivated as it seemed at the time, as Thawne hints at metahuman abilities for our favorite tech geek.
  • That helmet that came rolling out of the wormhole looks like a perfect fit for one Jay Garrick. Another sign that the multiverse is on its way?
  • Everyone got a moment in the sun in this episode, which even found time for Caitlin and Ronnie to get married…by Martin Stein.
  • “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

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